Twenty miles wide by fifteen miles long, the stark, arid landscape of the Borrego Badlands stretch across a portion of the enormous Anza-Borrego State Park in California’s southeastern corner. At sunset and sunrise, the Badlands’ creased and wrinkled ridges cast bold shadows across a maze of golden hills and sand-colored arroyos. As you look across this parched landscape, wrap your mind around this: The whole view was shaped by water. Fossilized seashells found in the region prove that it was once submerged under a blend of salty tropical waters from the Gulf of California and fresh water from the Colorado River. Scientists surmise this brackish sea teemed with aquatic life—home to fish, sea turtles, and sharks.
One of the best places to get a look at the Badlands’ surreal scene is at Font’s Point, nicknamed California’s Grand Canyon. The point is a coveted spot for photographers, especially at sunset or on full-moon nights. If you’re trying to catch that magic light, allow time to stake out a prime spot, and keep in mind that it’s slow going—4WD only—on the sandy and rutted 4-mile/6.4-km-long road to the point. Or leave the driving to others and join a ½- or full-day guided Jeep tour with California Overland Desert Excursions or Borrego Jeep Photo Adventures.
For another perspective from a paved access point, travel to the park’s southernmost badlands at Carrizo Badlands Overlook (on the east side of County Route S-2). Pull off the road, unpack the binoculars, and survey the scene of uplift and erosion.
If you want to stay the night, reserve a spot at Tamarisk Grove Campground or Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. Or, take advantage of the park’s primitive/backcountry camping policy: You can camp anywhere in the park, free of charge, as long as your car is not parked more than one length off the road (your site can be pitched further away). See what other guidelines to follow here. Cost? Free.